Even with the American uproar over the Russian-Ukrainian situation, as the Sochi Paralympics begin, the Games serve as an extraordinary reminder why the Paralympics, but more specifically the Olympics, have had such a huge effect on our international psyche. The influence of the Olympics extends beyond international relations and medal count, having had absolutely transformative effects on such areas as human rights. Looking back at the history of the Olympics, it is truly amazing that our society is blessed with such a great opportunity.

In 1896, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece under the auspices of Evangelos Zappas, a Greek-Romanian philanthropist, and Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat. Founded to revive international peace and foster a sense of competition without violence, the Olympics have gone above and beyond in achieving those goals.

Even with the American uproar over the Russian-Ukrainian situation, as the Sochi Paralympics begin, the Games serve as an extraordinary reminder why the Paralympics, but more specifically the Olympics, have had such a huge effect on our international psyche. The influence of the Olympics extends beyond international relations and medal count, having had absolutely transformative effects on such areas as human rights. Looking back at the history of the Olympics, it is truly amazing that our society is blessed with such a great opportunity.



In 1896, the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece under the auspices of Evangelos Zappas, a Greek-Romanian philanthropist, and Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat. Founded to revive international peace and foster a sense of competition without violence, the Olympics have gone above and beyond in achieving those goals.
Just like the Ancient Olympics in Greece, the Modern Olympics are held even in times of violence, and they call for the cessation of all violence for the duration of the Games. Ever since their debut in 1896, the Olympics have only been canceled three times, all three of which were during the World Wars. The Olympics have been crucial in representing the different political conflicts countries have gone through over time. The most famous example is, of course, the 1980 Olympics, in which the American menís hockey team upset the Soviet team, bringing hope to millions of Westerners in their bout with Communism. †Another area of politics in which the Olympics have had an effect is international recognition. In 1992, Germany finally sent a unified team to the Olympics, a great step in cultural reunification. From 1996 to 2006, Korean athletes from both North and South Korea marched together in an effort to represent their common nationality. The Olympics have done a significant amount to give new nations a face on the international scene. Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia in 2008, symbolically showed to the world that it was an independent nation by sending athletes to the 2012 London Olympics. The famous 1988 Jamaican national bobsled teamís debut on the global stage has been memorialized in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings. More recently, the Sochi Olympics were the first games to feature the nations of Togo, Tonga, East Timor, Zimbabwe, Malta, Dominica, and Paraguay.

Not only have the Olympics given roughly every country in the world some international attention, they have also had an enormous effect on social and human rights issues across the globe. Perhaps the greatest example occurred in 1936. Held in Nazi Germany, the 1936 Olympics are well-known for the breakout performance of the African-American Jesse Owens. Hitler had organized the Olympics with the aim of propagating the myth that the Aryan race was the perfect race. Luz Long, Owensís German rival, was specially instructed to win by Hitler. Instead, Long decided to assist Owens in performing the best at long jump by advising Owens not to take off too close to the foul line. Owens won, and his performance made great progress in convincing the international community that African-Americans, or any minority race, were, in every way, as capable as Caucasians. In 1992, Cathy Freeman of Australia became the first Aboriginal athlete to win gold in an event, winning the 400 meter dash. The win vaulted the Aboriginal people into the international limelight, thus initiating pressure on Australia to realize Aboriginal rights.
The 1968 Olympics were famous for the silent protest of two African-American athletes, who both held their fists in the air to protest to the international community the mistreatment of blacks in the US at the time. Peter Norman, an Australian who shared the podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two protesting athletes, supported them by wearing a human rights badge, furthering international athletic camaraderie. As for gender equality, women have participated in the Olympics since 1900, albeit in a limited number of events. As the years passed, female participants have gradually grown in number to the point now where they constitute around 45% of total athletes in the more recent Games. Womenís rights have always been an issue throughout the history of the Games. The most recent example was when Saudi Arabiaís legal stance on women was thrown into the limelight during the 2012 Olympics when journalists began openly speculating if female Saudi athletes would be required to cover their faces in public. By momentarily allowing countries to observe one another in a spirit of friendly competition, the Olympics have made enormous progress in actualizing human rights across the world and putting pressure on nations that refuse to grant basic human rights to certain citizens.
Indeed, as the events surrounding more recent Olympics illustrate, the mere presence of the Olympics brings international attention and thus the potential to make huge steps in increasing human rights. The 2014 Sochi Olympics have thrown LGBT rights into the spotlight. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics did the same with Native Americans and the 2008 Beijing Olympics did so with Tibetans. Throughout Olympic history, whether on political recognition, human rights, or social issues, the Games have had an enormous impact on the international community.

Just like the Ancient Olympics in Greece, the Modern Olympics are held even in times of violence, and they call for the cessation of all violence for the duration of the Games. Ever since their debut in 1896, the Olympics have only been canceled three times, all three of which were during the World Wars. The Olympics have been crucial in representing the different political conflicts countries have gone through over time. The most famous example is, of course, the 1980 Olympics, in which the American menís hockey team upset the Soviet team, bringing hope to millions of Westerners in their bout with Communism. †Another area of politics in which the Olympics have had an effect is international recognition. In 1992, Germany finally sent a unified team to the Olympics, a great step in cultural reunification. From 1996 to 2006, Korean athletes from both North and South Korea marched together in an effort to represent their common nationality. The Olympics have done a significant amount to give new nations a face on the international scene. Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia in 2008, symbolically showed to the world that it was an independent nation by sending athletes to the 2012 London Olympics. The famous 1988 Jamaican national bobsled teamís debut on the global stage has been memorialized in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings. More recently, the Sochi Olympics were the first games to feature the nations of Togo, Tonga, East Timor, Zimbabwe, Malta, Dominica, and Paraguay.


†Not only have the Olympics given roughly every country in the world some international attention, they have also had an enormous effect on social and human rights issues across the globe. Perhaps the greatest example occurred in 1936. Held in Nazi Germany, the 1936 Olympics are well-known for the breakout performance of the African-American Jesse Owens. Hitler had organized the Olympics with the aim of propagating the myth that the Aryan race was the perfect race. Luz Long, Owensís German rival, was specially instructed to win by Hitler. Instead, Long decided to assist Owens in performing the best at long jump by advising Owens not to take off too close to the foul line. Owens won, and his performance made great progress in convincing the international community that African-Americans, or any minority race, were, in every way, as capable as Caucasians. In 1992, Cathy Freeman of Australia became the first Aboriginal athlete to win gold in an event, winning the 400 meter dash. The win vaulted the Aboriginal people into the international limelight, thus initiating pressure on Australia to realize Aboriginal rights.


The 1968 Olympics were famous for the silent protest of two African-American athletes, who both held their fists in the air to protest to the international community the mistreatment of blacks in the US at the time. Peter Norman, an Australian who shared the podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two protesting athletes, supported them by wearing a human rights badge, furthering international athletic camaraderie. As for gender equality, women have participated in the Olympics since 1900, albeit in a limited number of events. As the years passed, female participants have gradually grown in number to the point now where they constitute around 45% of total athletes in the more recent Games. Womenís rights have always been an issue throughout the history of the Games. The most recent example was when Saudi Arabiaís legal stance on women was thrown into the limelight during the 2012 Olympics when journalists began openly speculating if female Saudi athletes would be required to cover their faces in public. By momentarily allowing countries to observe one another in a spirit of friendly competition, the Olympics have made enormous progress in actualizing human rights across the world and putting pressure on nations that refuse to grant basic human rights to certain citizens.


Indeed, as the events surrounding more recent Olympics illustrate, the mere presence of the Olympics brings international attention and thus the potential to make huge steps in increasing human rights. The 2014 Sochi Olympics have thrown LGBT rights into the spotlight. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics did the same with Native Americans and the 2008 Beijing Olympics did so with Tibetans. Throughout Olympic history, whether on political recognition, human rights, or social issues, the Games have had an enormous impact on the international community.